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Curse Of The Golden Flower

Gong Li in Curse of the Golden Flower

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

HAVING dazzled us with Hero and House of Flying Daggers in recent years acclaimed director Zhang Yimou returns with perhaps his most ambitious and complex tale yet – the epic tale of a feuding family set against the sumptuous backdrop of 10th Century China.

Based on a play written and set in the 1930s (Cao You’s Thunderstorm) Curse of the Golden Flower is a visually stunning yet emotionally complex piece of filmmaking that marks another significant achievement for the director.

It’s not quite as good as House of Flying Daggers (my own personal favourite) but it remains a cut above most traditional Hollywood fare and is never less than absorbing – both in the depiction of its characters and customs and its jaw-dropping set pieces.

What’s more, it marks the first collaboration between Yimou and Gong Li in over a decade following their sudden parting in 1995. (Prior to that, Li was considered one of the director’s muses having appeared in six films, including the critically-acclaimed Jou Dou and Raise The Red Lantern.)

Set at the start of the annual Chang Yang Festival, the film picks up as the Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) returns from battle and begins to poison the Empress (Li), a woman he married through convenience but whom he has now grown apart from.

She, in turn, has conducted an illicit affair with her stepson, the Crown Prince Wan (Liu Ye), but enlists the help of her own son Prince Jai (Jay Chou) to help try and put a stop to the Emperor’s murderous plan.

Loyalties are stretched still further, however, by the Emperor’s decision to promote Prince Jai ahead of Prince Wan much to the chagrin of another of their children.

Hovering in the shadows, meanwhile, are dark secrets from the Emperor’s first wife that embroil the imperial doctor (Ni Dahong), his daughter (Li Man) and wife (Chen Jin).

If the ensuing tale of lies, deceit and betrayal sounds like it could give Shakespeare a run for his money, that’s because Yimou leaves no stone unturned in his quest to expose one of the most dysfunctional families of all-time.

But with so much plot and attention to period detail (from fashions and architecture to customs), the film feels a lot slower than some of his previous work and requires a lot of patience early on.

Once the components are in place, however, the director proceeds to deliver his trademark blend of drama and action, dropping in some truly stunning action sequences that unfold on an even greater scale than the likes of Daggers and Hero (just witness the Ninja attacks).

He also draws terrific performances from his two well-known principals – Li perfectly walking the line between tragic and scheming and Yun Fat conveying a nice sense of arrogance.

It all adds up to an extremely heady brew that brings his much-hailed Wushu trilogy to a suitably memorable climax. Yimou’s Curse is therefore a blessing for cinema audiences.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 54mins